Stem cell research has been conducted for decades, but it has picked up the pace only in the 20th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, scientists began exploring the topic. They suppose and predict that specific cells in the body are "blank" or unspecified, which later turn into cells of the organism particular to each organ. The human body has several places where such cells can be found. Their applications are numerous as stem cells can be used to treat various physical diseases and disorders as well as repair organs or even grow limbs. Unfortunately, there are many issues which are still unresolved. Stem cells taken from fetuses that are specifically grown for that purpose have made it a rather controversial issue. Stem cells may also be found in the umbilical cord and adult bone marrow. There are both advantages and disadvantages of this issue. Therefore, a close look will allow determining the best course of action.
Specifics of Stem Cells
These specific cells have unique qualities of self-renewal and division; they also have the ability to become a cell of any body tissue or organ. The development of multicellular organism begins with the division of a single stem cell which later turns into a fully grown and functioning organism. With the division and multiplications of stem cells, all types of cells are created. The human body has more than 220 cells of such type. People have these stem cells their whole life. For an adult, stem cells play a regenerating function as they renew broken tissues or other cells and organs. However, as the person gets older, the number of stem cells gradually decreases (Kelly, 2007).
It has been shown that all stem cells have two specific qualities: self-regeneration which means that the phenotype does not change after division and the second one is potency which allows producing more cells of the specialized kind. There are also two kinds of division; one is where the same type of cell is produced, one stem cell and one undifferentiated cell. The second kind is where one stem cell divides into two more specialized cells. The three main types of stem cells are embryonic, fetal, and adult (Kelly, 2007).
Stem cell research began as far back as 1909. The term "stem cell" was proposed for worldwide usage by a Russian histologist named Alexander Maksimov. He described the cells that were termed haematopoietic and proved their existence using the available methods of science (Panno, 2009). They were described as being undifferentiated, having an elemental round nucleus with a light color; they do not belong to either white or red blood cells. In the beginning of the century, scientists have suspected that the human body has cells which have regenerative qualities and they are the ones that activate the division of other cells present in the bodies or tissues, but the case was somewhat different (Panno, 2009).
The potential for using stem cells is enormous. There have been numerous cases when parents have used stem cells from a newborn child to treat an illness of their older son or daughter. Stem cells can be implanted in any organism that has characteristics similar to the donor.
Until recent times, scientists had problems to keep cells in balance and preserve their survival as there were a few issues. Presently, it has been accomplished by combining stem cells with liquid medium in which the cells have the ability to spawn and continue growth (Panno, 2009). Another promising application goes beyond treating diseases and serious conditions to organ replacement. The process of 3-D printing has been around for some time, printing physical objects, ranging from robotic parts to photographs, guns, and other everyday items. Printing organs is very much relative and as of right now, people are unable to grasp the concept. It seems extremely futuristic and the majority of population cannot even imagine the technology, particularly the printer that will create live organs. However, in case this really works, it will be extremely beneficial for humanity. There are many people who are on the waitlists for skin transplants, not to mention organs. It is difficult to find donors; moreover, there is no guarantee that the organ or tissue will be accepted by the body. People's own stem cells may be used in creating organs. It means that they will be better accepted by the organism, so there will be very little risk involved and chances of survival will be greatly increased. This sort of development will have many benefits that will solve problems between hospitals and patient care.
Now, scientists are talking about being able to produce tracheas and organs that have an intricate system of blood vessels and nervous endings. The use of produced live tissue has already been applied in testing drugs and treatments. Another most recent development was in the production of "a self-healing hydrogel that binds in seconds and is able to be stretched repeatedly" (Loh, Sherman, Gale, & Steed, 2012, p. 4). As genetics and DNA have been extensively studied in the past, this can be considered the continuation of the already existing experimentation. It is fascinating that scientists have developed a technique of "inserting" genetic material into the cell and are able to manipulate the living processes (Khademhosseini, 2008, p. 128).
As previously discussed, the use of stem cells or 3-D organ printing receives enormous amount of attention and people start to wonder if there will be any ethical problems. With the ability to create living tissue, people wonder if it will become possible to replicate human, and cloning has been mentioned as one of the unwanted outcomes. The merging of "real" people with artificially created human organism has been described in numerous science fiction movies and books but no one has imagined that it might become a part of reality. The primary problem is that people have started playing God, and the ethical issue of whether the cloned or "printed" people will be considered an individual or will they be a mere duplicate that can be experimented on and used for organs appears (Khademhosseini, 2008). The existence of soul and character will become very intricate since these things are impossible to discover or quantify. This can be compared to infants that are grown in labs, using modern technology, but the cells that are used are taken from parents and already formed with genes and other information. This sort of artificial involvement and unnatural modification by humans can be the basis for much debate.
Undoubtedly, the progress and technological advancements cannot be stopped and the future is defined by the knowledge and human ability to better people's organisms. This sort of technology can be compared to the current prostatic usage and it has proven to be extremely beneficial for people. If it is acceptable to improve joints and bones, then organs can be added to the same category. There should not be a problem with the organs because it is the patients who themselves donate their own stem cells and so, there is no ethical dilemma. However, people are starting to wonder if it will become possible to replicate brains and human individuality. It would be better to focus on this issue in the future because the current debate is centered on organ manufacturing and this is without a doubt a positive direction that must be further studied and developed.
Political and Legal Context
For a very long time, since doctors started experimenting and practicing organ transplantation, there has been a battle between professionals and patients. World organizations and governments as well as societies and individuals have debated for one side or the other. This is often closely connected with the ethical questions on who must decide where the stems cells or organs will go and how to separate those who are in particular need from those who can wait some time longer. Undoubtedly, the biggest issue is the use of fetuses that are specifically grown for such purposes. Numerous religions and governments have made the use of fetuses and even zygotes illegal. In 2011, the European Union Court accepted to consider the zygote as a human being, therefore, any experiments or manipulations involving embryonic stem cells are forbidden. Other countries have placed limitations on the type of stem cells that can be used as in case someone donates stem cells or if adult cells are used, no fetuses or embryos are hurt (Panno, 2009).
The modern world has advanced in the medical field considerably and presently, there is a debate on whether the government should continue or even allow funding researchers in the division of stem cell cure. The use of human embryonic stem cells has led to a difficult argument that entails public legal and moral disputes. The Dickey-Wicker law clearly states that it forbids public financing for any study that causes the obliteration of human embryos (Panno, 2009). For example, former Republican Senator John Danforth, an Episcopal priest, said: "I find nothing in the Bible that tells me that cells in a lab dish are people… What I do find in the Gospels is an emphasis on healing—relieving people of their suffering" (Okie, 2006). As such, the main focus is on the fact that people cannot use the lives of other people born or unborn to help others to save their lives (in the sense that is presented here). People and most major governments have agreed that the use of fetuses is prohibited because no one can legally or morally decide whose life is more valuable.
It must be noted that the stem cell research and their use have become a widely political issue, not to mention legal and moral. Candidates use certain support or the illegal nature of stem cell to attract supporters (Okie, 2006). The article titled "Stem-Cell Politics" also mentions some statistics about this sensitive issue. The survey by Pew Research Center showed that "56% of the respondents said it was more important to conduct stem-cell research that might lead to cures than to avoid destroying human embryos, and only 32% said that preserving the potential life of embryos should be the priority" (Okie, 2006). Those who agree with the use of embryos believe that an embryo is not a human being, and the society disposes of live embryos "routinely", so if future people are already killed, why not kill them for a better purpose (Okie, 2006). The problem is that this happens and some embryos are "discarded", so this issue must be addressed first. The sole reality that this happens seems to accept a "legal" destruction of embryos. It is a multicellular, living, and functioning organism, and the fact that it is a human means that killing it is illegal. If people work on the political and legal definition of the embryo as a human being, then all the discarding of embryos will be illegal, no matter what purpose is. The majority of people are fooled that the ends justify the means. However, it is not true when it comes to human life. It is worthy to note that even George Bush stated that "…the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others… crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect" (Okie, 2006).
At the same time, there are a lot of stories that tell about people being cured almost immediately, gaining an ability to walk and move around. There are references to stem cells being an elixir of life as people's bodies are renewed and they become younger. There are also clinical studies that have shown how stem cells inserted into a body have found the environment alien, thus developing into cancerous tumors (Schwartz, 2006). This goes to show that cells are a single living organism which can determine and respond to its environment. This closely connects to an individuality of a group of people joined by the common purpose. Joseph Panno (2009) stated that when the embryo starts growing all the cells are communicating. This is done by their close interaction side by side or at a distance. Cells are directing other cells to build tissues and organs (Panno, 2009). This means that there is effective and reasonable communication between cells united by the common idea of creating a person. This "mental" interaction between cells is a person's individuality; the common goal of all cells is to survive, fix themselves, and continue living. As such, politics, the legal system, and the society need to understand that embryos cannot be killed because embryos are persons.
As a result of research, it is possible to say that political, legal, social, and personal aspects of stem cell usage are based on an important precedent whether embryo or fetus must be considered a human being and what is the gain and benefit from stem cell treatment. Primarily, it has been established that there are government, laws, and people who know the ethical and legal considerations which are too obvious to deny. Regulations and laws that have outlawed the harmful use of humans on any stage of development, be it embryonic, fetal or adult, have been passed in many countries of the world. It is a logical and moral contradiction to kill one life to create another because the innocence and value of a person cannot be measured. The stem cell problem must be treated correctly, so that any unlawful or damaging use of embryos or fetuses is forbidden. Even in case it is contemplated, an infant has not consciously experienced a single day in life, so it would be only fair to allow a new person to live their life, instead of ending theirs and letting someone who has already enjoyed life to selfishly continue to do so. From the legal point of view, it can be aligned with a murder. Euthanasia is not allowed, whereas there are many reasons to permit such practice since the person voluntarily wants to end his/her life. Unless an embryo or fetus can speak for themselves and confirm that they are ready to sacrifice their life for someone else, it is illegal to kill a human being even for medical purposes.
Governments and societies understand that the desire to "grow" humans as some sort of crop, only to be used "to fertilize" an already existing population, is undeniably irrational. Even if the treatment benefits someone, a baby's life should be saved without a doubt. In a case where such option is not available, the best decision should be made in relation to saving a life which is younger. The life of an embryo is the most valuable thing because they are unable to speak for themselves. Not speaking does not mean not feeling, thinking or living. Not to mention that funding any study which will create life only to destroy it is legally impermissible.
Obviously, there are many ways to use stem cells acquired from bone marrow or umbilical cords and reach success. Scientists have only started to discover the smallest things about cells as even the process of cells creating energy by transforming vitamins and minerals has been currently researched further. It is possible that there are parts of body or even cells that can be used to treat illnesses or organ and tissue damage. Human body can regenerate itself at any age. As people get older, the process becomes longer but it still happens. This means that human body has the resources to do it involuntarily, so if science finds the source which directs the cells to regenerate, human sacrifices will be unneeded.
The human mind, character or personality are the most unquantifiable and valuable things in existence. The feelings, memories, and aspirations that make one live and interact with the environment create a person. When the first cells of the human begin to develop, going from two cells to millions in geometric progression, the organism begins to live, function, and interact with the environment. This is the beginning of a person's life. To end life at its beginning means to destroy it. Undoubtedly, stem cells and their benefits can be used to cure the ill and anyone who need treatment, but the cost should not be human life. The only cost that is needed is monetary, so that scientists may find other ways to treat people without forgetting about morality and ethics. Logic and legality are the basis for governments and societies. Politics and countries function because there is an order based on moral and reasonable laws. Trying to reach a higher state of civilized development by using immoral laws will only regress evolution. When the majority of the world has decided that ending the life of an offender should be allowed, it means that people understand how valuable life is.
Stem cells technology is inevitably connected to humanity and evolution. People were given intricate brains in order to discover ways to better themselves. Unfortunately, it will probably be impossible to replicate individualities because there is much more immaterial and unexplained aspects involved in making people who they are. Just as there are limitations on certain things that people cannot achieve like flying, walking through walls or changing into other live organism or object, some things are unattainable by humans. Surely, it is possible that some secret government organizations are in fact cloning people who are already living amongst the population but there is no conclusive evidence. Problems must be addressed as soon as they emerge and not before, otherwise, there will be a mental overload for people and governments.